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The martini is a bit like the Beatles or Abraham Lincoln or Jesus: it’s such a well-trod and thoroughly covered subject that you can’t help but wonder whether there’s actually anything new to say about it. That’s a notion that Robert Simonson, author and cocktail writer for The New York Times, faced when writing “The Martini Cocktail” (Ten Speed Press), which was published last month. The book chronicles the history and “bewildering depths” of the drink, the luminaries who loved them, and the evolution of its sister cocktails. It does not, however, cover the bastardization of the drink, which is to say the many years when a Martini, in the public imagination, meant anything served in a martini glass. That desecration of its sophistication aside, it is interesting to note that in the late 19th century, the martini actually emerged as a sweet drink, a concoction of Old Tom Gin, a sweeter version of the spirit, and sweet vermouth.


Simonson is no stranger to the enchantment of simplicity. His last book, “3-Ingredient Cocktails,” is a catalog with commentary of some of the most straightforward and nonetheless lovely drinks. Now he delves into well-trampled inquiry of the martini’s inventor, the reason for its name, and other aspects of its origin story. In keeping with the gin-soaked sleuths before him, he turns up no conclusive evidence. But that’s not to say there isn’t something new to learn. One of my favorite tidbits is the theory that the martini is a Republican drink, as its popularity surges whenever there’s a Republican in the White House. (See: Eisenhower in the 1950s, Reagan in the greed-is-good ’80s, and today.) That’s not to imply that this is a book of politics. In fact, it’s a good one to reach for when you want to think about anything but.

Early Dry Martini


Perhaps the earliest printed Martini recipe (1904). Makes 1 drink.

1 ½ ounces dry gin

1 ½ ounces dry vermouth

3 dashes orange or Angostura bitters

Olive, cherry or lemon twist

1. Combine liquid over ice in a mixing glass over ice. Stir until chilled, about 30 seconds.

2. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

3. Drop an olive into the glass or express a lemon twist on the surface of the drink and drop it into the glass.

Adapted from “The Martini Cocktail”

Liza Weisstuch can be reached at liza.weisstuch@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @livingtheproof.

Liza Weisstuch can be reached at liza.weisstuch@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @livingtheproof.